Last weekend I went to one of my favorite places, a “deep cut” along a rail trail where the icicles grow as big as tree trunks. Since little or no sun shines down into this man made canyon once it gets cold it stays cold. It can also be quite dark so I waited for a rare (this winter) bright sunny day, hoping there would be enough light to be able to take some photos.
There is ice everywhere you look here. The odd thing about it is how in the summer you barely notice the groundwater that constantly seeps from the rock faces. Winter really reveals just how much water there is here, and it’s a lot.
The ice climbers were here. They call this place the “ice box” and come here to train and get used to ice climbing before they go out and tackle the really big ice falls. The New Hampshire branch of the Appalachian Mountain Club holds ice climbing clinics here too, but I don’t know if that was what was going on here on this day. I try to never bother them because I imagine that ice climbing takes intense concentration and I’m always afraid that if I distract someone they could fall. I certainly don’t want to be the cause of that.
If you’d like to see someone actually climbing this ice you can watch a video of it by clicking here. The video also shows just how high these ledges are toward the end of it.
I’m thinking that they probably have enough on their minds without answering questions from me, like that horizontal crack that runs completely through this ice column. Just taking a photo of it made me nervous. I’ve seen massive pieces of ice lying in the trail after they’ve fallen and I know that I don’t want to be anywhere near one when it comes down. When you’re the only one here and it’s quiet if you stop and listen you can hear the ice creaking and cracking, letting you know that what you thought was static and unmoving is actually moving all of the time, expanding and contracting and growing larger.
Last summer I noticed several of these rock climbing anchors, called “LEAPs” screwed into the rock face, so ice isn’t the only thing climbed here. LEAP stands for Leading Edge Anchor Point and is what ropes get tied to. This photo also shows that part of the rock face was wet. It’s hard to believe that what looks like such a small amount of moisture can grow into such massive ice formations.
All this water has to go somewhere so when the railroad engineers blasted this canyon through the rock they also dug drainage ditches along each side of the rail bed. After over 150 years they still work fine. They hadn’t yet completely frozen over yet when I was there and considering how cold it was that was a real surprise.
There are thousands of plants, mosses, ferns and liverworts growing on the rock faces and I usually wear my rubber boots so I can wade through the drainage ditches to get an up close look at them. I wore my boots this day but the ice was making some really strange sounds and I didn’t think that it was a good idea to be standing under it, so this shot of some liverworts was taken from a few feet away. After being here in such cold it amazes me how anything can survive these conditions. It was 20 °F when I left my house and I’d guess it was probably half that here in the canyon. Add the breeze that always seems to blow through here and it was probably close to zero with the wind chill.
I just finished reading the book Sermons in Stone, which is about New England stone walls, and in it author Susan Allport says that long, round tool marks like that in the above photo were made by steam powered drills and since steam powered drills weren’t invented until 1861, the particular stone that bears these tool marks couldn’t have been worked before then. I can’t argue with that but there is plenty of evidence that the granite here was hand cut using star drills and feathers and wedges, so I think what might have happened was the railroad came back once the steam drill was available and widened the rail bed. If it was originally all done by hand then it was probably only as wide as it absolutely had to be. They could also have been making sure that there was no loose rock that might fall on the tracks.
The tool marks from the old method of drilling and splitting by hand can’t be confused with anything else.
I’ve never seen ice come in so many colors as it does here. This place is beautiful at all times of year but the ice adds a bit of magic. The first time I saw it I walked this trail stunned into silence and awestruck by the sight of it. It’s hard to tell by these photos but these ledges soar upwards 50 feet or more in places and you feel as if you’re in an ice cathedral. It’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen.
This was the first time I saw orange ice here. I’ve read that orange icicles on a rock face are caused by iron minerals in the soil and water. I can’t find any reference to what might cause green or blue ice.
I wondered if the orange ice was caused by this algae growth which, even though it is bright orange, is called “green algae” (Trentepohlia aurea.) A carotenoid pigment in the alga cells called hematochrome or beta- carotene, which is the same pigment that gives carrots their orange color, hides the green chlorophyll in the algae.
Mineral stains of various colors are also visible on the rock faces.
My favorite is the blue ice but all of the different colors are beautiful and part of what makes this such an amazing place.
Just as the sun started to go down I saw that someone had been clearing a new trail off of the rail trail that I was on. It looks like the new trail is meant to cross this old bridge, which didn’t look to be more than 4 feet wide. It crosses a small stream and looks like something the stone masons would have used to get cut granite out of the woods. I wanted to explore it but it was getting even colder as the sun dropped, so it’ll have to wait for another day.
Beauty waits until the patience and depth of a gaze are refined enough to engage and discover it. In this sense, beauty is not a quality externally present in something. It emerges at that threshold where reverence of mind engages the subtle presence of the other person, place or object. ~ John O’ Donohue
Thanks for coming by.